The Man of Steel came soaring into comics way back in 1938, making his debut in Action Comics #1. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman has gone on to become the most iconic superhero ever created. Although Kal-El’s origin is well known and his power set legendary, the Last Son of Krypton has a rich mythology that stretches back almost eighty years and counting.
The Superman of the Golden Age was vastly different from that of the Silver Age, which was a very strange time for comics. Written in 1954, Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent blamed them for juvenile delinquency, resulting in a decline in sales. In order to combat this, the Comics Code Authority was created that same year, cracking down on violence and sexual innuendo.
Due to their forced change in direction, the tone of superhero comics was lightened considerably and creative teams had to get a bit more imaginative. This led to the weirdest, wackiest and just plain craziest comic book stories ever written. Supes went through some pretty insane changes during that most celebrated age – although he went through several oddball shifts before and after as well. Without further ado, here are 25 Times Superman Was Transformed Into Something Weird.
25 Super Fat-Boy
The skyrocketing popularity of Superman led to more titles for the Man of Steel, with Superboy following his early adventures in Smallville. In 1953, Superboy #24 featured a story that was actually titled “The Super-Fat Boy of Steel!” Smallville’s teenagers packed on the pounds overnight and it’s up to Superboy to get to the bottom of it. A truly terrific tale follows, in which Clark discovers that it’s the milk in the high school cafeteria, which came from cows who had been fed corn that was affected by a “positive ray”. In a super stroke of luck, there also happens to be a “negative ray”.
This isn't the only time Superboy gained a bit too much weight though. In Adventure Comics #270, aliens stole Ma and Pa Kent’s identities and attempted to make Superboy vanish. However, they used red kryptonite, which had become a means of changing Superboy in any number of ridiculous ways. Seriously, the words "red kryptonite" are going to pop up on this list quite a bit. In fact, here they are now: Super-Fat Boy made his electrifying return to comics in Adventure Comics #298, thanks to, you guessed it, red kryptonite.
Clark also became a self-described Super-Fatty in Superman #221. An alien ceremonial ritual left him oversized to say the least and there was no known antidote. Luckily, Superman was smart enough to realize that some super exercise would slim him right down!
24 Mini Superboy
As Clark Kent’s unfortunate weight gain was explored multiple times, so was a miniature version of Superman. In 1957, miniature aliens shrank Superboy down to their size in Superboy #61. His super strength was needed to remove a boulder from their spaceship. Sixty-year-old spoiler alert: the boulder was a grain of sand. Superboy managed to become pint-sized again in Adventure Comics #270. Remember those aliens that impersonated Ma and Pa Kent and accidentally made him fat? In that very same issue – again, using red kryptonite – they also accidentally made him tiny. They weren’t exactly evil masterminds.
Of the several stories involving an itty bitty Man of Steel, the strangest would undoubtedly have to be Superman #125 in 1958. The explosion of an alien ship wiped out some of Superman’s powers, but thankfully, replaced them with a new one. He was now able to shoot a miniature version of himself out of his fingertips and also… rainbows. The best part of this story is how jealous Supes got over all the attention that was granted to the tiny replica he was able to create, because that mini Man of Steel possessed all the powers that he no longer had.
In Action Comics #243 in 1958 – after a day spent at the Metropolis Zoo, lifting elephants in the air and sticking his head into the mouths of lions – Supes rescued a woman who happened to be a distant relative of Circe. He turned down her subsequent marriage proposal, so naturally, she turned him into a lion. Apparently, the potion she put in his drink transformed Superman into the creature that he resembled most.
When Super-Lion went searching for her, she had already returned home, which, by the way, was on another planet. Meanwhile, Lois was daydreaming about someday becoming Mrs. Superman, when she bumped into her intended. Luckily, Lois is a classy lady and decided that they could still go on a date, although her decision to take him to see Beauty and the Beast wasn’t her finest moment. Super-Lion proceeded to go on a series of adventures, including brawling with a pride of lions, before discovering a cure.
22 Old Man Superman
In 1959, Action Comics #251 included a story in which Clark Kent decided that it was a good idea for him to act as a guinea pig to a scientist who was attempting to increase the human life span. Clark assumed that the experiment would have no ill effects on his Kryptonian physiology. Well, of course, certain properties of the serum were similar to those of kryptonite. As he drifted off to sleep that night, Clark wondered if he would be adversely affected, and sure enough, he next morning he woke up a very old man.
This isn’t too big of a deal for Clark Kent, considering the serum wears off in seventy-two hours. However, as Superman, he can barely fly at all before becoming winded. In an insane turn of events, the Old Man of Steel – disguised as the Old Man of the Sea – manages to trick a would-be pirate, Captain Cutlass, into surrendering. Following that, Superman pretends to be Father Time in order to outsmart another villain, the Clock.
21 Giant Superboy
Adventure Comics #262, published in 1959, featured an out of control Krypto. The Superdog hadn’t always been the easiest pup to train, but after a kryptonite meteor made him both giant and rabid, it was up to Superboy to come to his rescue. Thankfully, the Boy of Steel has a plan: make himself just as oversized as Krypto. Once the boy and his dog are seeing eye to eye, Superboy is able to bring the Superdog back down to size.
That wasn’t the only time that Superman became a giant, though. Adventure Comics #270, the same issue that saw Supes become both oversized and miniaturized, also had him become overgrown at the hands of those inept aliens thanks to the ever wacky effects of red kryptonite. Can you guess what super sized Superman in #226 of his eponymous comic? If you guessed a crimson hunk of space rock was once again responsible, you're correct. Unfortunately, this happened while Supes was watching King Kong, so for some reason, the events following his transformation played out similarly to the film.
In Superman #302, Lex Luthor was behind Superman’s change in size. He made the Man of Steel grow upwards of nine feet tall. While it would seem that this was a terrible way for the supervillain to triumph, Lex hadn’t just increased Superman’s size, but had also decreased his intellect. Luckily, a timely assist from the Atom saved Superman - and the day.
20 Long Hair and Fingernails Superman
Superman #139 was released in 1960 and while it did include a story entitled "The New Life of the Super-Merman", that awesome version of Supes turned out to be a hoax. He was only pretending to be a Merman in order to push Lois into marrying another man. It's difficult to imagine how such a solid plan failed in its execution, but Lois simply had her heart set on the Man of Steel.
That same issue also featured "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" and once again, Superman had a pretty intense reaction to the stuff. Interestingly, while he is reflecting on his past experiences with red kryptonite, he begins having a new one. His hair and fingernails won't stop growing! Obviously, they are as indestructible as the rest of him and not even his X-Ray vision could trim them down. He is forced to retreat into the Fortress of Solitude in order to protect his secret identity. Fortunately, the combined x-ray vision of Supergirl and Krypto is enough to make Clark look like himself again.
19 Three-Eyed Superman
In 1961, Action Comics #275 really shifted the entire paradigm of Superman comics. Instead of Brainiac exposing our titular hero to red kryptonite, he exposed him to red and green kryptonite... at the same time! Naturally, this led to an extreme reaction from Supes, who proceeded to grow a third eye on the back of his head.
This new wrinkle leads to Superman wearing a multitude of hats, each one dictating that he act in a different manner. He chooses to don Lois's hat, as well as a turban, and even a bearskin, changing his attitude with each new accessory. The most delightful development would have to be the Man of Steel wearing a Napoleon hat made of newspaper and flying through the air on a horse statue. Apparently, this is all in an effort to maintain his secret identity. He is finally able to use the heat vision from all three of his eyes to destroy Brainiac's forcefield and send him tumbling back through space.
18 Fire Breathing Superman
In another 1961 issue, Action Comics #283 sees two chameleon men from the 30th century luring Superman into a trap using a statue of him that they made out of red and green kryptonite. As far as evil schemes go, you can't say it wasn't creative. This time, rather than adversely affect him, the cerise stone appears to grant him magical powers.
Seriously, Clark wishes for fog and it appears. Stranger still, he hopes for Sherlock Holmes to help him solve this mystery, and low and behold... the famed sleuth materializes out of thin air. He even causes both his birth and adoptive parents to emerge from nowhere. Hang on, though, because the weird keeps on coming. Every time Superman opens his mouth, he breathes fire! He's quick on his feet, though, using his super ventriloquism to solve that problem. Lastly, Superman gains the power of telepathy, which enables him to discover the identities of the chameleon men and foil their plan.
That’s not the only time that the Man of Steel had atomic breath. In Superboy #115, he drank two chemicals that actually produced a nuclear explosion in his stomach. The result: Fire-breathing Superboy.
“The Babe of Steel” was a 1962 story in Action Comics #284 in which Superman realized that the only way to thwart impending doom was to revert back to the form of a baby – while maintaining his adult intellect of course. He accomplished this incredible feat by using something we’ve never heard of before. Just kidding! It was red k.
It all started when Superman received a ghostly message, which later turned out to be from Mon-El. To make a very long story short, Supes needed to become a baby in order to fit through a small hole in the Phantom Zone. Why he needed to regress to an actual toddler remains a bit unclear.
Superman was turned into a giant (again), sans super powers this time, years later in Action Comics #325. Apparently, each time he is affected by red k, he builds an immunity to said effect, which explains his strange new reaction each time. This recent transformation reminded him of another time on Krypton when Jor-El’s growth ray turned him into a Brobdingnagian baby. However, Supes wasn’t just waxing nostalgic. He was thinking back to his days on his home world in order to come up with a way to defeat the evil steel stealers and their mighty magnet. We swear that we did not make that up. Superman’s trip down memory lane gave him the brilliant idea of pretending to be a giant mudman in order to frighten away the aliens.
You've heard of Ant-Man, but have you ever seen Ant-Superman? When a colony of giant ants, who have been mutated by interplanetary nuclear war show up on Earth in Action Comics #296 in 1963, the Last Son of Krypton does the most rational thing that he can think of. He exposes himself to red kryptonite. There just happened to be a cosmic cloud made of the stuff and Superman knew that if he concentrated really hard while going through it, that the red k would have the intended effect.
Thankfully, his concentration paid off and he emerged with an ant head. This enabled him to communicate with the giant insects. It turned out the creatures merely came to Earth with a warning. They wanted to let us know that nuclear war would be our undoing. The ants only wreaked havoc because they could not properly communicate. Well, Supes solved that problem. He not only helped the ants leave the planet, but also brought their warning to the U.N.; if we continued down our current path, the future of the oversized bugs would be our own.
15 Blimp Superman
Superman wasn’t the only hero to go through some insane transformations during the Silver Age and he didn’t always go through them alone. In World’s Finest #131 in 1963, the Crimson Avenger uses one of his devices to inflate Superman and Batman like balloons, while Robin could only look on in horror. This Mephistophelian fiend even faked allergies in order to catch the Boy Wonder off guard! To be fair, who would’ve seen that coming?
Luckily for our heroes – who were somehow horribly outmatched here – the Crimson Avenger was actually planning to double cross the villainous Octopus Gang all along. With his aid, they were able to vanquish their foe and save the day. This was Robert Elwood’s sole appearance as the Crimson Avenger. Following this sweeping victory, he retired. The original hero to go by that moniker, Lee Walter Travis, dates all the way back to Detective Comics #20 in 1938.
14 Sphinx Superboy
Published in 1963, Superboy #103 brought the effects of red kryptonite to a whole other level. This time, the space rocks break the time barrier, hurtling Superboy through the ages! The first stop on our time travel epic is ancient Egypt. Thankfully, Superboy learned to speak the language on previous journeys to the past. After saving the Egyptians from drowning by stopping a flood, the Boy of Steel is tasked with building pyramids. He is puzzled by the absence of the Sphinx, a riddle that is solved when Superboy is turned into one by the red k.
Next up, we move into the time of King Arthur, where a knight wielding a mace made of the dreaded crimson mineral confronts Superboy. Naturally, Superboy challenges the knight and hurls his weapon into space. Of course, our hero cannot escape unscathed and this time, he is turned into a super magnet. That’s right, all metal within the vicinity is drawn to him immediately.
Lastly, Superboy travels to the Wild West and is transformed again. After witnessing him catch bullets in his mouth, Jesse James and his fellow outlaws fashion bullets out of red kryptonite. When their plot to get Superboy’s aid in a robbery is thwarted, they shoot him, although the ammo doesn’t exactly have the effect they intended. Superboy is turned into Jesse James, which strangely works out okay after he tricks the robbers into giving him all the damaging bullets and getting themselves caught by local law enforcement.
13 Super Drang
Here comes another entry from 1963 and if you’re wondering who or what a drang is, it’s a dragon-like creature from Krypton. In Action Comics #303, we learn that Jor-El was kind enough to send some drang eggs rocketing away from Krypton. They were meant to go to an uninhabited planet, but thanks to a cloud of – do we even need to say it – red kryptonite, one lands on Earth. The egg doesn’t hatch, but it doesn’t need to thanks to the unexpected effect that it has on Superman. He becomes a drang!
What is even more unfortunate for Supes is that he has no way of communicating this to his allies. Super Drang believes that holding his costume in his mouth will be enough of a clue, but instead, it convinces them that the monster has destroyed the Man of Steel. All of Superman’s attempts to reveal his identity fail, until finally, he picks up a statue of himself and scratches off the other letters until all that remains is: “I am Superman.”
12 Cave Superman
In 1965 World’s Finest #151 had more transformations in store for Batman and Superman. However, Superman most definitely drew the short straw in this issue. While Bats became an incredibly evolved, highly intelligent man of the Future, poor Supes was reduced to a dim-witted caveman, thanks to the evolutionary ray of a dead Kryptonian. This causes a confrontation between our heroes and who do you think wins out in that one?
Well, Batman got Superman to fly away by… hurting his super feelings. It turns out that the Man of Steel is really a marshmallow. Poor Robin is caught between the two heroes and can’t reason with either of them. Some pretty crazy stuff ensues, which includes Krypto being turned into an actual monster. However, eventually the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader see reason and the latter is able to return them both – and Krypto – to their normal states.
11 Super Cat
From the book that brought you the titular heroine being turned into an African-American woman in order win a Pulitzer – it’s #106, if you’re interested and you really should be – Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #70 introduced Super Cat! Can you guess who the main antagonist of this story is? Well, it’s called “The Catwoman’s Black Magic". First, Selina Kyle manages to hypnotize Lois into becoming her costumed bestie, and a plot to steal some exotic birds from the Penguin is put into action.
Of course, Superman interferes in their scheme and for that, Lois, who is still under Catwoman’s thrall, uses the wand of Circe to transform him into a cat. Hey, at least red kryptonite didn’t play a part in this story. However, green kryptonite does, when Catwoman traps the kitty, who still possesses Superman’s powers, in a cage made from the mineral. This leads to “the cat-fight of the century”, which Catwoman loses thanks to a helping hand from the Dynamic Duo. In the following issue, Lana Lang manages to somehow turn Superman back using a cat’s paw.
10 Super Monkey
Yes, it’s true that there was already a Super Monkey – his name is Beppo – and he does play a part in Superboy #142, published in 1967. However, in this issue someone else becomes the Super Monkey: Superboy! A story cleverly titled, “Superboy Goes Ape!” revolves around a red kryptonite pearl that a man found while eating oysters. Clark and Lana were eating burgers at the same restaurant. Seriously, that’s what happened.
Clark immediately excused himself and changed clothes. Superboy was looking at a monkey when he got that familiar tingling feeling and therefore, a monkey he became. He even began to think like a primate. Wait, that’s not all... Thanks to a delayed secondary effect of the red k, the monkeying around got a whole lot less cute when he shot up to the size of a skyscraper and turned into an ape.
Meanwhile, Beppo came to the rescue just as the man with the pearl was taking it to the jeweler’s in order to get it appraised. Hey, wouldn’t you? Beppo was thinking of Superboy and so he turned into him. Once again, Superboy’s super ventriloquism came into play, as he used jungle cries to lure the Ape of Steel away from town until boy and monkey were restored to their rightful forms.
9 Leprosy Superman
In Action Comics #368, from 1968, Lex Luthor mixes a plague germ with kryptonite. Virus X, as he calls it, is actually capable of killing the Man of Steel. Ventor, a criminal ventriloquist – obviously Superman’s most frightening foe – hypnotizes Clark into infecting Superman. There is even a Superman dummy involved in the process! So, Clark winds up spilling the virus on himself and hilarity ensues.
Lex Luthor tells the world of Superman’s affliction and he is eventually forced out of town. The story of the imminent death of the Last Son of Krypton continues for several issues. Not only do doctors fail to cure him, but Luthor manages to con his friends out of millions of dollars with the promise of a bogus antidote. It would seem that Luthor had won this one when Supes boards a rocket to cremate himself in the sun. Of course, Superman gets out of this death sentence. This time he has white kryptonite to thank, which was hurled at him by Bizarros as he passed them by on his death march through space.
8 Vampire Superman
Super Friends: Attack of the Vampire aired in 1978. Due to the fact that it was a children’s show made in the ‘70s, vampires turning people through a bite was out of the question. Well, if the fangs are just for show, then how did Supes become a vampire? Obviously, the answer is eye beams. Although interestingly, the infamous vamp says, “Now Superman, you will feel the bite of Dracula” before hitting him with said beams.
Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are drowning in a well at the Count’s castle. Thank goodness the Caped Crusader has his emergency Bat finger file! It’s a good thing they manage to escape, considering Batman is the one with the antidote. Dracula has some pretty big plans, like taking over the entire world. Luckily, after the Dark Knight rescues the Man of Steel, he still has enough of the cure for everyone else under the Count’s thrall.
7 Horned Superman
Although the majority of these entries come from the Silver Age, any comic fan can attest to the fact that comics went off the rails a bit in the ‘80s and ‘90s as well. Can you guess how Clark Kent wound up with devil horns? Well, if you guessed that he heard Lana playing enchanted panpipes, you would be absolutely right!
In Superman #405 in 1985, Clark sprouted horns just like the God of the Forest after he heard the magical notes played aloud. Apparently, he was chosen to be the leader of a cult of Pan worshippers from Ancient Greece. Until, he got the whole thing sorted out, Supes knew that he couldn’t be flying all around Metropolis with devil horns. Naturally, the next logical step was to camouflage his strange new growths by becoming Super-Batman.
Flying around in an amalgam of his costume and Batman’s, Superman realizes that there is more to the Dark Knight than his costume. He also uses an amusing array of headgear in order to hide his horns, including a hot water bottle and a skydiver helmet.
Some detective work – he is wearing the Batsuit, after all – reveals a very convoluted plan involving a fake of the ancient panpipes that Superman desperately needs. Eventually, it’s the horns that make him resemble Pan, not the suit that makes him resemble Batman, that help him get to the bottom of it.
6 Super Centaur
Speaking of how the ‘90s also gave us some oddball comics, let’s take a look at Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy, a four-issue miniseries published in 1996. It’s an Elseworlds story, written by beloved X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, and features one of the craziest comic plots ever.
Let’s start with the fact that the Third Reich never fell and move right along to Superman getting attacked by trolls and harpies. You may be wondering what those two things could possibly have to do with one another? Well, the Reich is actually ruled by the god Adonis. Wonder Woman is in league with them, as is the entire Greek Pantheon, hence the monsters of myth.
Artemis and Athena are fighting on the opposite side and the latter transforms Lois into the new Wonder Woman. Lana is granted powers as well, from the Oracle of Delphi. Also, in #3 Circe turns Superman into an evil centaur! Lana is able to remind him of who he really is – while riding him, nonetheless – and also, inexplicably, turns herself in a centaur as well.
5 Teenage Girl Superman
If you thought the first three issues of Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy were crazy, hold on tight for the grand finale! Remember how we said Superman was transformed into an evil centaur? Well, as punishment for his treatment of the maenads, the Goddess Hecate transformed him into a teenage girl. The reasoning here doesn’t make a ton of sense, but apparently, his crimes were against women, so he now has to live as one. Following that, she gets her hands on a god-killing gun and she’s off to, well, kill some gods. Of course, she’s still Superman, so murder goes against everything she believes in.
To make shorten a much longer story, let’s wrap up with the fact that teen girl Superman infiltrates the Third Reich and Lois Wonder Woman beats Nazi Wonder Woman. However, there is a final twist: Zeus and Hera had basically turned the world into a literal chessboard and were using everyone as mere chess pieces. Hades handles Adonis, and Clark, Lana, and Lois – still Wonder Woman – live happily ever after on the moon, together.
4 Giant Monster Superman
This is from another Elseworlds miniseries called Superman & Batman: Generations. Published in 1999, and written and drawn by comics legend John Byrne, the book was popular enough to spawn two sequels. One of the main aims of the series was to get away from the typical timeframe of comics by placing all the characters in one timeline and allowing them to age. The progeny of our titular heroes even eventually took up the mantles of Superman and Batman.
Giant monster Superman appeared in #2 of the first Generations miniseries. So much of the story is a love letter to the rich histories that these beloved characters have. This strange version of Supes was a harkening back to the days of the Silver Age when the Man of Steel was altered in countless ways – many of which we have discussed here – due to red kryptonite. It was those same space rocks that were responsible were this transformation, which makes Supes look like a gargantuan version of Frankenstein’s monster.
3 Herald of Galactus Superman
Let’s be honest, DC/Marvel Crossovers are generally mediocre at best. Of course fans want them, because the idea of seeing our favorite characters from both companies interacting with one another is exciting. Unfortunately, no matter how cool the premise may seem, these stories almost always fail in execution. This Superman/Fantastic Four one-shot from 1999 wasn’t the worst of the bunch, but it wasn’t the best either.
Superman discovers evidence that Galactus was responsible for the destruction of Krypton. He decides to seek out the Fantastic Four, who he had met in DC vs. Marvel. Although Superman wound up beholden to Galactus, his transformation here is probably the least ridiculous one on this list. It’s still weird, though, considering such a thing could never happen in Superman’s own universe.
Not only is Superman Galactus’s new herald, but Reed is trapped as well. This leads Sue, Johnny, and Ben to make a deal with the Superman villain of the piece: Hank Henshaw, aka Cyborg Superman. When it is revealed that he actually faked the message from Jor-El – the one blaming Galactus for the destruction of Krypton – the Devourer of Worlds transmutes him into a small metal rectangle. Now that is a regrettable fate.
2 Super Rock-Man
Speaking of Ben Grimm, in Power Girl #23 in 2011, Superman, Zatanna, and Power Girl were very briefly transformed into beings that looked a whole lot like the Thing. It all starts when Superman and Power Girl team up to fight dinosaurs that are rampaging through New York. However, when they turn out to be magical dinosaurs, both heroes decide that they could use Zatanna’s help. Unfortunately, she’s a bit tied up… literally. We also learn here that Zatanna's ringtone is “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, which is pretty awesome.
A mystical thief called Siphon has abducted the Mistress of Magic in an effort to steal her tremendous powers. Supes and Power Girl come to her rescue after tracking her phone, but – you probably know that Zatanna’s magic works through backwards speech – Siphon tells them to “teg ykcor”, which basically turns them into rock people, at least until Zatanna is able to say, “nruter su ot lamron.”
1 Cheetah Superman
Justice League vol. 2 #13 kicked off “The Secret of the Cheetah”. The team talks Wonder Woman into battling it out with her former friend, Barbara Minerva – who is now her enemy, known as the Cheetah. Together, they track her all the way to the Congo. The regrettable consequence of this action comes when the Cheetah bites Superman, causing him to become like her. The bite would’ve killed a human, but it turned Supes into some kind of cheetah monster instead. Luckily, the San Tribe had a cure for the cheetah curse and they were able to restore Superman to his normal self.
The cheetah is actually the tribe’s protector, or at least it was until Barbara stole an ancient relic and corrupted its spirit. The team is eventually able to capture her and she winds up locked up in Belle Reve. However, unbeknownst to the Justice League, that cage is exactly where the Cheetah wants to be.
Which wacky Superman transformation is your favorite? Are there any that we missed? Let us know in the comments!